Limerence is not a widely known concept. In a not-entirely-scientific poll (I asked some people I know), 0.0% of my peer group had heard of the term. So, it’s good to give a clear definition.
Limerence was coined as a term and concept by Dorothy Tennov in her 1979 book “Love and Limerence”, and emerged from her study of romantic love.
It mostly took the form of interviews and questionnaires, in which Tennov noted a number of consistent traits among many individuals who described their experiences of being in love. She defined limerence as a new term to encompass the features of this common experience. They are (paraphrasing and simplifying slightly):
- Frequent intrusive thoughts about the limerent object (LO), who is a potential sexual partner.
- An acute need for reciprocation of equally strong feeling.
- Exaggerated dependency of mood on LO’s actions: elation when sensing reciprocation, devastation when sensing disinterest.
- Inability to react limerently to more than one person at a time.
- Fleeting relief from unrequited feeling through vivid fantasy about reciprocation by the LO.
- Insecurity or shyness when in the presence of the LO, often manifesting in overt physical discomfort (sweating, stammering, racing heart).
- Intensification of feelings by adversity.
- An aching sensation in “the heart” when uncertainty is strong.
- A general intensity of feeling that leaves other concerns in the background.
- A remarkable ability to emphasize the positive features of the LO, and minimise, or empathise with, the negative.
- I would also add to Tennov’s list: a desire for exclusivity.
Interestingly, when describing these traits to the same people that I queried about “limerence” as a term, the responses seemed to split into two general camps:
“That’s just love. You don’t need a special word for that.”
“Don’t be silly. Nobody really feels like that; it’s childish.”
This of course fits with Tennov’s core thesis: that people can be understood as fundamentally different in their experience of love. As limerents and non-limerents. (Either, of course, can be “limerent objects”, which really is an apt coinage. Limerence is projected onto the recipient of desire; they become a screen for the movie that is playing out in the mind of the limerent. They are treated as an object, not a human being seen in their full complexity).
But as with all things worth studying, there is more complexity and subtlety once you start to investigate more deeply. A defining feature of limerence, which probably does separate it from “puppy love” or “a crush”, is the involuntary nature of the experience once it has taken hold. I think this is most readily understood in the case of intrusive thoughts. “Oh I daydream all the time about him” doesn’t really get close to the invasive, relentless and compulsive nature of limerent rumination. You can’t turn it off. You can’t read a book, because every other sentence triggers a thought-bridge back to Them, and that’s it: concentration is impossible. You can’t listen to music, because all songs are about Them. You can’t seem to have a conversation with someone else without finding yourself mentioning Them in relation to… well, anything. They become the central force of gravity in your life. A black hole of attraction.
Urgh, sounds awful; but that’s the other weird feature: it isn’t. Certainly not at first. Mutual limerence experienced by two individuals free to express their feelings is, of course, surpassingly blissful – the “ecstatic union” described by Simone de Beauvoir and inspiration for uncountable numbers of poems and songs. But even in times of uncertainty or adversity, the sensation of limerence can be highly pleasurable in itself. The rush of excitement at the perception of mutual attraction. The thrill of power and hope when you make LO laugh. The intoxicating sense of buoyancy when in the presence of a happy LO.
And intoxication really is the best word I can think of to capture the sensational overload that comes with limerence. Love intoxication. It’s addictive. Like a junkie, limerents indulge themselves whenever they get a chance. “Oh good, a moment alone. I can have a nice fantasy about LO”. “I normally take that route home, but if I take this small diversion in completely the opposite direction I may just happen to bump into LO”. “I better just text LO about this important bit of trivia….. Yes! They’ve responded!” But like any other addiction, after a while the exquisite spike of pleasure can devolve into a habit, and then a craving, and then an impediment to the proper, healthy sources of happiness and fulfillment in life.
So, on the principle that the blissed-out mutual limerents are too distracted to bother with reading a blog like this, I’m going to focus most of my posts on trying to understand limerence as a phenomenon, with the goal of devising means for enjoying it as an addictive stimulant to be indulged in at the appropriate times to the appropriate degree. I do believe that limerence can add vivid colour to life, without compromising the pursuit of meaningful happiness.